I visited award-winning Japanese hair stylist Hiro Miyoshi at his flagship salon in London’s Mayfair to find out more about 2022's hair conturing trend, and to experience it myself.
He explained that hair contouring is a dual-method highlighting treatment that combines bayalage with an emphasis on lighter, face framing colour, blending the hair’s natural tones with the bleach and later a toner. ‘It’s still bayalage,’ he told me as he began sectioning and backcombing sections of my hair. ‘But it’s less ombre and looks more natural and simple.’
However while the end goal is an effortless, sun-kissed, dazzling look, it is a complicated journey. Hiro explained to me that my hair needed to be colour corrected due to evidence of former highlights and bleaching hovering around the lower half of my locks. ’For this method to work the front needs to be longer,’ he explained, prompting me to agree to his request to cut a few inches off the back and sides of my hair.
Like many people, I learnt the hard way during the coronavirus lockdowns that it’s all very well having a bold hairstyle (RIP my long lilac hair) until you can’t maintain it. I came out of the lockdown-era with hair that was naturally ginger at the roots, a horrid urine yellow in the middle (reminders of a desperate attempt to sort my roots out in someone’s garage) and white-almost-translucent tips.
Hiro explained that while hair contouring can look edgy if you have very extreme differences between the natural and dyed hair, on me it would simply grow out - naturally. ’Two months regrowth is when you need to have it topped up,’ he said, adding that leaving it to grow out would just look like standard bayalage. ‘It’s a very low maintenance look.’
This was music to my ears, and I was equally relived that the bleach was only left on for about half-an-hour - I am not kidding when I say that is a seventh of how long I used to spend in the chair getting my hair light enough to tint lilac. ‘It’s important for the hair not to look overdone,’ he smiled as I was shown my reflection - and new contoured hair - for the first time.
But what is hair contouring?
words: Danielle Blundell
Maybe your skills with a contour stick could give even the Kardashians a run for their money. But did you know your hair can get in on all that sculpting action as well, giving you a sun-kissed look that not only enhances your facial features but also adds dimension to your tresses in the process? Simply put, this is called hair contouring, and it's one of several hair trends experts say will rule 2022.
If you're at all privy to the thousands of trends that pop up on social media, there's a chance you’ve already seen the #haircontour hashtag. With over half a million Instagram references and counting, this service is gaining popularity right now and for good reason.
Instead of incorporating just a few strands of contrasting colour like money piece highlights—or requiring somewhat tedious colour application all over the head à la 2000s era chunky highlights—hair contouring plays with shadows and light by using a more blocked method of application of highlights and lowlights, starting at your crown and softly cascading around your face. It's a great way to play with colour if you're not ready to fully commit to a dramatically new look.
To find out if this look is right for you, here’s everything you need to know about hair contouring, 2022's most achievable hair colour trend.
What is hair contouring?
'Hair contouring is a hair colour service where balayage highlights and colour are placed in specific areas with the goal of sculpting the ideal face shape,' says Sarah Strand, lead colourist at eSalon. 'Highlights and colour are introduced to add width to narrow face shapes and elongate round and square face shapes.' Of course, 'ideal' is open to interpretation, and the beauty is that you and your stylist can decide what you love about you—and run with that.
Think of hair contouring as a fancy name for any face framing highlights. It's all about highlighting your favourite features and perking the complexion up a bit.
'For hair colour and hair contouring, it depends on the client's face shape, skin tones, hair texture, and what kind of style they are looking for—corporate, business, high fashion, edge, daily use,' Yuksel Sahin, hairstylist and owner of Yuksel Sahin Hair Salon, previously told WH.
Like other colour treatments, your base will inform the selection of complimentary tones for your contouring; typically, the bulk of the contouring will be about a shade or two brighter than your current hair colour, but darker coloured lowlights are often used as well, according to Crystella Lopez, also a lead colourist at eSalon. Your stylist will also take your skin and eye colour into consideration to find just-right tones that’ll make your features pop, she adds.
Hair contouring typically resembles a balayage effect with even more softness and movement. 'The key is to be strategic on where [colour] is placed to draw the eye to details,' says Sean Godard, hairstylist and Ulta Beauty Pro Team member, the details in question being a person's cheekbones, eyes, or even lips.
In general, many stylists describe hair contouring as a sun-kissed look, but as Lopez points out, slightly darker shades can be used as a part of the overall effect to make certain areas recede by creating shadows.
What technique is used for hair contouring?
According to colour specialist Mirko Vergani of Fabio Scalia Salons, hair contouring isn’t akin to any specific colouring technique; it can be created through free-hand application, painting, foils, or a combination of these techniques. He thinks this service is trending right now because, relative to other treatments, it’s pretty fast, unlike full head highlights, which can require hours spent in the salon chair.
How does hair contouring differ from chunky or money piece highlights?
To Godard, hair contouring is much more customisable than chunky or money piece highlights, which typically aren’t added with the shape of a client’s face in mind at all.
'It’s different because it’s strategic, drawing the eye to certain areas,' he says. 'We can also use colour to enhance or adjust the face shape. For example, light pieces around the face can widen and add volume to the shape, whereas darker colours elongate the shape and make the face appear narrow.'
Because chunky and money. piece highlights isolate smaller sections of strands with higher contrast colours—versus hair contouring’s more painterly application of subtle shifts in shade—the end results look fairly different. 'While chunky highlights and money pieces create a big contrast around the face, hair contouring is a more natural and softer look,' says Lopez. 'Since hair contouring can be applied using a free-hand style, it can create a very blended, natural look.'
What hair colours does hair contouring work best on?
The great thing about hair contouring is that it works on pretty much any colour—blonde, black, brown, or red—and any type of hair. 'The more contrast between tones, the more extreme and bold the contouring will be,' says Godard. Vergani notes that daring clients might consider hair contouring with bold colours or even pastels for a unique, edgy look.
How can the final look be maintained at home or in the salon?
The good news is maintenance is similar to other colour services and even lower fuss in some cases; because the overall effect tends to be subtle, hair contouring grows out nicely. Still, anytime you’re colouring your hair, you want to watch out for a few things for best results.
'Brass is going to be your biggest enemy, especially on darker hair,' says Vergani. 'So it’s important to use blue or violet shampoo to help neutralise any unwanted yellow and orange tones.' Other than that, you might consider investing in a good shower head that filters out any hardness in water. '[It] depends on the city you live in, but very hard water can cause the colour to change a lot,' says Vergani.
Godard recommends going back to your stylist for a gloss service to maintain your tone in between brightening sessions. You could also try an at-home balayage highlight kit, like eSalon’s Light Set, says Strand, which can 'allow you to bring your highlights back up to where they were after they have grown out.' That said, you’ll want to be confident with your colouring skills before giving this a go.
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